Posts Tagged ‘vacations’

Our “Spring Break” trip (minus any actual Spring Break-ers) was a week of relaxed-pace recreating in Myrtle Beach.  I knew our vacation was off to a great start when I spied our condo’s dishes:


If you guessed Fiesta, you guessed correctly. I’m feeling very influential these days.  Or maybe I’m just in good company.  What’s not to love about these dishes?

The week provided several rounds of golf for Mr. Official, a couple hours of hot yoga and a nice 5-mile run for me, plus plenty of pool time.  Our winter whites have been banished for the season, replaced by a pink-brown color they call “tan” – I hear it’s the “in” color this summer.

The temperatures exceeded expectations, pegging out in the high 70s/low 80s most days.  We  ate our fill of local seafood each night and we drove Thunder Road:IMG_3395


…well, one of us did. Somebody had to take pics, and besides, I wasn’t sure I met the height requirements.


Because Mr. Official is an easy-going good sport, one night he agreed to forgo a seafood feast and dine on movie theater popcorn and Cokes while watching Jurassic Park in 3-D (in a nearly empty theater.. which was kinda weird.)

In between golf, yoga, and taking laps around the lazy river on innertubes, we also got in a day of antiquing, which netted two red fruit bowls and a turquoise salad bowl for my (ever-growing) collection.  I also acquired some wonderful additions to our landscape, courtesy of a plant sale at Brookgreen Gardens and a fabulous little nursery in Murrells Inlet:IMG_3426.

But the highlight of the trip was on Friday…it was a paparazzi moment for me and my camera when I spotted this gosling surrounded by a couple tough-looking bodyguards on high alert.  I managed to squeeze off a few shots before they shooed me away.


Technically, it was six goslings.


Oh, wait…you thought I spotted Ryan Gosling?  Silly goose.  Nope. But I think these Canadians are just as cute as he, and it was way easier to get a photo of ’em than THAT guy.

Happy Monday,

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Charleston in October

As some of my past posts hint, I love (love, love, love) South Carolina, and most especially Murrells Inlet and Charleston.  There are a few cities that have captivated my heart and spirit, mainly New Orleans and New York.  And most recently, Charleston. All three have some things in common:  they are all old cities, by American standards.  They are all large, prominent cities.  One is ultra-modern, one is a rich blend of classes and customs and cultures.  Charleston is a charming blend of old and new – Kings Street offers shopping on par with the best and funkiest boutiques in SoHo, while one block south is Meeting Street, which except for the occasional powerline and fire hydrant, might be mistaken for pre-Civil War era.

Maybe it is because it blends old with new so effortlessly.  Maybe it’s the palm trees that grace the streets without being overbearing.  Maybe it’s the walled gardens, which give you a glimpse into each resident’s tastes and gardening prowess. Maybe it’s the food, which is comfortingly familiar to my southern palate, but yet rich, decadent and unique in its own right.

Whatever “it” is, it had me at hello and hasn’t let me go.  When I visit my other favorite vacation haunts, I take my leave full and satisfied. Not so with Charleston. Every time we visit, I find new places to explore and a new litany of excuses to return.

We did not make our annual spring pilgrimage to the Low Country and I had resigned myself to skipping a year.  But Mr. Official offered a South Carolina football weekend getaway:  the only catch was hitting the road at the uncivilized hour of 3:30 on Saturday morning so we could make opening kickoff in Columbia by 11:00 a.m.  I agreed and we did.  After coming achingly close to closing the deal against USC, we wiped our eyes and drove on into Charleston.  We arrived before dark in time to discover the city damp after a day of dreary drizzle, courtesy of Hurricane Sandy.  A leisurely dinner at Cru Cafe and a stroll along East Bay Street with the winds whistling through the palms found us back at our hotel where we turned in earlier than most of the Saturday night crowd.

In the morning we found a new favorite breakfast place in Toast of Charleston. (How can you not love a place that dares to stack a poached egg on a crab cake on a fried green tomato and cover the whole mess in remoulade?)

Fortified, we wandered around the Charleston City Market where for the first time I noticed the Daughters of the Confederacy sign on the upper level:I darted into a favorite little Christmas store and picked out this year’s keepsake; a spun glass pineapple will join two other Charleston mementos on our Christmas tree this year.

After I oohed and ahhed my way through the flea market type stalls, we hopped on a carriage ride with Freddie pulling us along for an hour. It was a leisurely and lazy way to learn more about some of the grand residences on the southeastern tip of Charleston.  The rest of the afternoon was spent strolling around the streets near Battery Park, camera in hand before .  As the sun settled low in the sky, we made our way back to the hotel, soaked up a few more minutes of sunshine in the courtyard then darted to Magnolias just in time to keep our dinner reservation.  As I drifted to sleep, contentedly full of sights, sounds and savors of this wonderful city, my mind was already making plans for the next visit, which can’t happen too soon.

And can you blame me?  These snapshots are just a sampling of the pictures I captured and the sights that captivated me.  If I thought Charleston was beautiful in the spring – and it is – I know now it is equally glorious in October.

While the memories are still fresh, I think I’ll try my hand at making some tasso for hearty winter and holiday meals of shrimp and grits, jambalaya and red beans and rice.  Maybe they can keep me warm this winter, until I have a good excuse to return to this amazing and gorgeous city.

Happy Tuesday,

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Swimmer Girl and I spent seven days (or 168 hours or 10,080 minutes…however you wish to parse it out) exploring as much of New York as we could.  We visited the must-see tourist sights and found some places off the beaten path where we tried to blend in with the locals, although I suppose our mannerisms and drawls gave us away.  Here’s an abbreviated version of our week, sans pictures.

The good?
1. The shopping, from SoHo with all its quirky little stores and shops, all the way uptown where FAO Schwartz still has the keyboard floor, to the delight of all who step on it.
2. The shows.  Wicked was wickedly good, but Mamma Mia was Swimmer Girl’s favorite.
3. The food…most of it anyway.  Benjamin Steakhouse was amazing, even if we were the only two unaccompanied females dining there and the only two sharing a steak. Tony’s DiNapoli fed us homemade, fresh and wonderful pasta; 5 Napkin’s burgers  were worth the late-night trip to the fringes of Hell’s Kitchen.
4. The history.  Governor’s Island, Ellis Island, Central Park, Washington Park, South Street Seaport and the World Trade Center memorial each offer a glimpse into various aspects of our country’s unique heritage.  The American Museum of Natural History seems as vast as the nation it tries to encapsulate, and the newer  BODIES exhibit is fascinating.  Wall Street is unabashedly and unapologetically American and the Empire State Building offers a breathtaking view of the city that does not sleep.

The bad?
1. The blisters.  Manhattan is jam-packed with stuff to see and do at every turn, and every square inch in between.  Most of it is within walking distance of wherever you are. But make no mistake, it is a HUGE city. Even on feet accustomed to running and walking miles every week and wearing comfortable daytime boots and shoes, my feet had the least amount of fun of any of my body’s members.
2. The crush of humanity.  Everywhere you go, you are surrounded by a throng of people, all trying desperately to ignore each other.  (Think “Black Friday” shopping crowds, everywhere, every day.) For those of us who are raised with lots of room to roam, a little of that much togetherness goes a long ways.

The ugly?
It breaks my heart to say it, but….Macy’s.  Going in, I had such high hopes for the flagship store of my favorite chain.  Such a HUGE disappointment.  Bigger is NOT better, at least when it comes to their brand-new “World’s Largest Shoe Floor.”  We bought….oh, let’s just say “several” (*cough*) pairs of shoes on this trip.  But none at Macy’s.  Why?  Because the service was insufferably bad.  I would still love to have a Macy’s right here in Murfreesboro, but they can keep their New York sales force. In the balance, the Clinique counter staff was much more friendly and helpful, so maybe it was an off night on the shoe floor, or maybe it’s something about people who deal with feet that makes them simultaneously snarky and inefficient.

The best?
Spending uninterrupted time with my daughter, admiring the ease with which she figured out the subway schedule and negotiated with Chinatown street vendors, and savoring her first bite of the big apple.  And being greeted at the airport with a big hug from Mr. Official, and once again sleeping in our own beds.

Happy Monday,

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Spring break is over, and now there’s 60-some days until summer vacations begin in earnest.   For those of you who –like us–don’t always stay in condos or cabins, I hope this information is helpful if you’re planning a summer or fall trip.  I’ll probably be printing it out as a checklist when I start planning our fall break.

After a few years of renting beach homes and mountain cabins instead of hotel rooms, I think we’re finally getting the hang of vacationing in a home-away-from-home. I love having the extra space to sprawl out, and the ability to prepare some of our meals, which is better for our waist line and bottom line, versus eating out every meal.

With each trip, I realize (too late) there are some key things that can really add to our comfort and convenience.   Here’s my list of most important hints and tips I wish I had known from the very first trip to the beach:

1. Plan your meals. You probably won’t eat out every meal, so it’s helpful to decide ahead of time how many breakfasts, lunches and dinners you will eat in and plan something for each meal.  It doesn’t matter if you precisely determine each day’s menu, just jot down enough meal ideas to cover all your bases.  I print out a flexible menu and put it in a plastic protective sleeve to lay somewhere in the kitchen (note to self: a refrigerator magnet would be a good thing to bring along.) Not only does it help everyone see what they can choose from, it helps the cook remember what to fix with what!

The menu also helps me create a grocery list, which I divide into things to bring and things to buy when we arrive.  (It makes that first-day grocery run MUCH faster and cheaper to have a list of everything we need for the stay.)

2. Bring or buy?  I’ve learned that just like packing my clothes and personal items, some items are worth bringing, others are not. My SUV does not have huge storage capacity, especially once Mr. Official’s golf clubs are loaded and our bags are packed in.

For that reason, I’m pretty judicious about what I tote along for the kitchen, versus what I will pick up when we get to our destination.  But I’ve found that bringing the following items saves at least $100 on our weekly bill, and makes the vacation a lot more pleasant for everyone. If things go according to plan, I usually bring back far less than I took.  Here’s my baker’s dozen of must-takes that I fit into two insulated grocery bags (also a good thing to have along):

  • Seasonings.  After lugging home the umpteenth pair of S&P shakers, I started leaving them behind, usually along with other abandoned pairs left by former occupants.  I now bring small jars of coarse pepper and Kosher or sea salt, which we prefer anyway.  Depending on the menu, I also pre-measure spices and seasonings. (For example, this garlic lime recipe makes an easy dinner, especially if I premix the spices and put them in a small bag.)
  • Oil.  A half-cup of olive oil in a small container makes baked potato skins crispy and yummy, seasons pans for sauteing, etc.  A small container of canola or vegetable oil is good for baked sweets (e.g., brownies, cookies and breakfast muffins and coffee cakes.)
  • Ziplock quart and gallon bags and aluminum foil.  They take up very little space and are handier than a pocket on a shirt for marinating stuff, storing leftovers and having a foil-lined pan makes cleanup a breeze.
  • Pasta.  Whether for a salad or side dish, I can tuck in a small box and know it’s fresher and cheaper than what I can buy locally.
  • Sugar. White and brown.  Easy to carry a small amount in heavy-duty bags or containers, and take just enough for sweet tea, bacon seasoning, etc.
  • Mixes. Muffin, brownie and cookie mixes are easier to transport than refrigerated dough, way cheaper (and tastier) than packaged sweets, and a cinch to mix up for breakfasts and desserts or snacks.  Along with a 3-pack of microwave popcorn and we’ve got nighttime snackage for the week.
  • Tea bags, coffee and filters.  Depending on how many are in our group, 1-2 tea bags per dinner are usually sufficient.  Coffee and filters are usually much cheaper to buy and take than to pick up locally.  (Extra filters are also good for disposable “bowls” for popcorn, chips, etc.)
  • Silicon.  As in hot pads and muffin cups.  Six muffin cups nest together and take up almost no room (not every condo has a muffin tin, I’ve discovered.)  Most condos only provide only one hot pad, but a couple silicon hot pads take up little room and protect both fingers and counters.
  • Lighter and a few votive or citronella candles.  Most of our vacations are to warm-weather destinations and we have a screened porch or balcony with dining table and chairs.  Sunset dinners are much nicer if you have a candle on the table.   Charcoal (and even some gas) grills require a lighter.  I don’t know how many cheap (but expensive) lighters I’ve bought and carried home over the years, but it’s a bunch.  Yes, we eventually use them up, but why keep buying them when you have a handful at home?
  • Flashlight and batteries (from AAA to D) will make beachcombing or just walking in a dark place a little easier.  Buying batteries in a local store is not only expensive, but–depending on how far off the beaten path you are–their batteries could be older than your kids.  And be sure to tuck in converters and chargers for every electronic device: cell phones, cameras, e-readers and computers.
  • Soap.  Dish, dishwasher and laundry all require detergent or soap.  Unless you don’t cook (much or at all) during your stay and you do only one load of clothes, the courtesy packages are not near enough for a full week of clean-ups.  A few tablets of detergent and a small container of my favorite dish soap makes these chores much easier. (And with my family’s eczema, using our usual fragrance-free laundry detergent can prevent a sudden outbreak.)
  • Kitchen trash bags.  Condos never provide enough, and they take up very little room to tuck in with your bring-alongs.  Count on at least one per day for every 6 people.
  • Sanitizer.  A can of Lysol, Oust, Neutra-Air or Febreeze can eliminate any musty odors on arrival and keeps things much more pleasant during the week.   Just sayin’.

3. First aid kit, plus.  As most moms know, it pays to bring plenty of bandages, Neosporin, over-the-counter pain relievers and allergy meds along.  Anti-nausea/diarrhea and a few doses of severe cold meds can be a lifesaver.  Having a child prone to carsickness, I keep a tube of Dramamine chewables in my car at all times, but if you don’t – let’s just say it can come in handy.  Other items we usually wind up buying at a local drugstore (read;  I really should bring them along):  feminine products, Q-tips, and a bottle of after-sun lotion (stick it in the fridge.)

4. Get the deals the locals get.  This year we used Groupon and LivingSocial to check out local deals for several weeks before heading out.  (Love them at home, they work great for most of the areas we travel to as well and provide better deals than the coupon books you can pick up locally.)  It can be worth it to sign up for at least one of the local grocery store loyalty cards, too – I carry one I use once or twice a year when we’re in the mountains, and it saves a big chunk of our grocery bill when I do.

Happy vacationing!

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Time’s up

Today we pack it up and head northwest.  I’ll be shaking sand out of everything for a while. 

College of Charleston

I think beach time goes faster than real-world time.  Where has the week gone?  Once again South Carolina has captured my heart and captivated me.  (Swimmer Girl should think hard about College of Charleston – Southwest now has nonstop flights to this charmed city, and her mother would love an excuse to come up for long weekends occasionally. Make that frequently.  Okay, all the time.)

Next week is back to the usual routine: working, working out, cleaning, laundry, cooking (and cooking out), and scouting out a new abode.

Come to think of it, life is really good–no matter where I am.

Sunset on the marsh walk

But every time I visit this part of the country, I think I leave a tiny bit of my heart behind.  One of these days, we might just have to figure out a way to make this home, especially if my heart insists on staying here piece by piece.  One of the employees at one of Mr. Official’s new favorite golf course was putting his golf bag in my car and remarked on the Tennessee tags and “Carolina Girl” window sticker.  I told him a girl can hope, even if it might take another 15 years or so before we can think about retiring somewhere.  (I’m pretty sure I could stand a few more spring breaks in South Carolina while we count down the years.)

Happy spring,

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…we will be firmly ensconced in our condo at Murrells Inlet, South Carolina.  Hopefully we will be basking in the first warm rays of the season, enjoying the beaches and salt marsh and rediscovering the fun activities of the area, and planning our day trip into Charleston.  And eating our weight in seafood.

For once, I overcame my natural procrastinator tendencies, and got a good head start this past weekend: the house has been cleaned from one end to the other, and will only need a bit of touching up as the week wears on.  And like our fall trip, my week is now a countdown of to-do’s, worked in and squeezed in around my workday priorities:

Monday:  Menu planning, shopping list, check the weather, double-check worship time and address for next Sunday.
Tuesday: Getting my hair did.  And getting the dog her puppy Prozac.  (No kidding.)
Wednesday: Car oil change, wheel rotation and wash/vacuum
Thursday: Laundry and packing, grocery store run
Friday:  Final pass through the house with clean linens, pack everything in the car and plan to depart as soon as everyone is ready to go.

If all goes according to plan, we should hit Atlanta in time to grab a late dinner and settle in for the night, then arrive in Murrells Inlet by noon on Saturday.

Happy (and safe) travels!

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Homeward bound

Leaving for a trip has its mix of excitement, anticipation, and worries (What did we forget? Will the weather be good? What if the condo is a dump?) Last Friday was smooth sailing, once we got out of town.  We arrived to discover we had all the important stuff (except my Kindle and camera battery chargers), the trip down was (mostly) uneventful, the weather was sunny but a tad cool, and the condo was beautiful and spacious, if understocked on some basic items. Like a can opener.

The week slipped by too fast, as it always does. Any minor bumps and mishaps along the way are soon forgotten, and the memories distill into a warm blend of sweet and funny moments that will stay with us until the next trip rolls around.

Preparing for the trip home is always bittersweet but has fewer unknowns: just make sure everything gets packed up. The extended weather forecast is no longer important and sleeping in our own beds again sounds pretty sweet.

Happy (and safe) travels!

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